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PIA to emerge stronger and better

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Imran Khan’s PTI government is under fire for its handling ofrecent aviation issues that led the European Union Air Safety Agency (EASA) to suspend Pakistan’s flag carrier airline, PIA, for six months. It also prompted global airlines to scrutinize credentials of their Pakistani pilots. It all started when in May the PIA flight 8303 from Lahore to Karachi crashed into a densely populated area near airport apparently facing issues while landing in Karachi. The PTI government immediately announced an independent enquiry and vowed to make the truth public.
The Aviation Minister, Ghulam Sarwar Khan, presented the initial report on 25th June and informed the National Assembly of Pakistan that almost 1 in 3 pilots have falsified credentials. This sent shockwaves all around. The reaction within the country was a split. There are critics who see this public statement of facts to have causeddifficulties for PIA internationally and other airlines domestically. They wanted this to be dealt with utmost caution and perhaps quietly and discreetly. Then, there are supporters who see this transparency and public statement of facts in accordance with the PTI mandate and pre-election promises.
It is deplorable to see once the world’s best airline to come to this low. For decades, PIA stood true to its slogan ‘great people to fly with’. The first lady of USA, Jacqueline Kennedy, applauded and reaffirmed this slogan after her PIA experience in 1962. It is not a secret that PIA helped many airlines to emerge and grow including perhaps the best airlines in the world currently, Emirates Airline.What then went wrong? The story of PIA is a snapshot of the story of Pakistan. The airline like the country it carries the flag of went downhill from what appeared to be a bright position with perspectives of even brighter future. The airline’s demise began when it started to be politicized. The politically motivated hiring made the airline worst in the world when it comes to aircraft to employee ratio. The PIA has over 14000 staff for its 30 aircrafts (a whopping 467:1 ratio). The Turkish airline, for instance, has less than 100 to 1 ratio. Once highly profitable, the inefficient management of cost and loss of revenue due to losing key traffic to Gulf airlines, the PIA slipped into serious financial woes. It currently has approximately 500 billion rupees of debt outstanding and losses amounting to over 75 billion rupees per annum. The airline has over the years been headed by the corrupt officials who financially drained it. The ruling elite’s interests in private airlines also contributed to the weakening of national flag carrier.
The current situation represents an opportunity sent from heaven to fix this ailing gem of the past. The PIA has long been going downhill and it seems it has now hit the bottom. Once the scrutiny is over and PIA comes with a clean chit on pilot’s fake license issues, it will bear more credibility in the international market. This will also be an opportunity to attract back PIA’s lost most valuable market, overseas Pakistanis. The deteriorating service and poor flight experience pushed overseas Pakistanis away from PIA to Gulf countries flag carriers. It was perhaps the loyal overseas Pakistanis market that prompted the British business tycoon Richard Branson to express interest in PIA. The PIA can record a significant improvement in its financials if it wins back only 50% of overseas Pakistanis traffic. It is deplorable to see Gulf airlines flying fully packed to and from Pakistani cities. Imran Khan should relish this challenge and go for a ‘big bath’ strategy and take decisive actions. An efficient top management, deterioration of political influence, restoration of service and flight experience, overhauling of fleet and crew and zeal to be an efficient commercial airline can take PIA back to the heights it deserves. It will be PTI government’s massive achievement if it ensures PIA emerges from this crisis as a better, stronger and competitive airline.